Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is editor and publisher of the Stanstead Journal.
Posted 04.23.02
Stanstead, Quebec


I am not speak French goodly

Such polite boys and girls. God knows that if I was 11 years old and I had someone like me come talk to my class, there'd be plenty of snickering and arm-farting going on.

The Grade 4 to 6 students at Jardin-des-Frontières, on the other hand, did not emit a single rude noise, neither individually nor as a collective force. If there was any eye-rolling, it was done after class.

I was at Stanstead's French elementary school Monday morning to talk about newspapers in general, The Journal in particular, and finally the project the students were working on - the creation of their own mini-newspaper that I will help them design and lay out. A faux-Journal-en-français, if you will.

There was a similar project last year, carried out by just two classes. That one touched on the history of The Journal, as well as local historical figures such as the paper's founder LeRoy Robinson, steam-car inventor Henry Seth Taylor, and the Colby family. There were also profiles of modern figures and industries in Stanstead. As one of those modern folk, I was the subject of an interview by two young Grade 4 students, who asked me questions about my background and my work at The Journal. I was surprised, therefore, when I read their copy to learn that I had been a building inspector in younger years. What I had actually told the students was that I had been a house painter. Of course, I did tell them in French.

You would think that after all this time in Quebec, living in a French province, working at least part of every day in French, I would be comfortable with la langue de Voltaire. But it just won't sit still in my brain pan. It's a squirmy bugger, that language talent. Thus, I may have said "house painter" in my head but it came out "house inspector" in my not-quite-second language.

Which is why I expected eye-rolling and underarm burping when I spoke to the students this week. Particularly since I had spoken to half this group a year earlier. For them, the experience must not have been so much, "We've heard all this before," but, "Sheez, he still hasn't learned how to say, 'parution.'"

And yet they were ever so polite as I rambled on in French, never quite knowing whether what I was saying was making any sense or whether it sounded like this:

"Each weeks, one puts the articklies in the spaces what one haves for the pages between the advertises to makes the betterest one in the front page becooz one wants to take the attention on ours readers."

To change things somewhat from last year's foray, I spoke not so much on the history of The Journal but on how community papers often embrace environmental issues. That's the theme of the students' newspaper this year - the environment, or as I said in French, "lawn-vee-ron-mant." I thought this topic (plus my frequent "umms" and "ahhs" and "comment on dit...") would fill the time but, horrors, there was time for questions after.

If my French tongue is bad, my French ear is worse, particularly when the speaker is quiet, uncertain, self-conscious, or in other words, 10. I had to answer questions like, "Est-ce-que vous mmmmememmm les mmmmememe le mmmemm chaque semaine?" To which, of course, the answer is, "Heh heh heh. Oui."

And there were so many questions, as if they really wanted to know things, as if they were interested, as if they actually had faith in me to make sense. It was touching, really, that the young students were willing to be so tolerant of a linguistic cripple like myself. I felt like I was 3.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks to help the students lay out their newspaper. That will be a more relaxed session, with my computer as my security blanket and my fingers doing the talking. All I'll have to say all day is "You putting the box like that. Very better!"